17 Illuminating Lighthouse Facts For Kids

White lighthouse with small house beside it, on top of some cliffs. The cliffs are beside the sea, it appears to be a sunny day, where the sky is clear.
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Land ahoy!

If you've ever taken your family to a town by the sea or near a big lake, the kids may have noticed a tall, round tower with a glass lookout at the top. These towers, or lighthouses, are used to warn and guide ships on the ocean using a clever light system.

Lighthouses have been around for thousands of years. They have played an important role in keeping sailors safe from dangerous seas. Many old lighthouses are still standing today and are well worth a visit. Plenty of them can be found near some of the best beaches in the UK!

Fascinate the kids with this list of great lighthouse knowledge and who knows, maybe one day they'll take a trip to a lighthouse themselves!

What Are Lighthouses?

Lighthouses are tall buildings that you can find in many seaside towns and cities. They are built with large lights at the top, which are very important for guiding ships to harbour, especially at night or in stormy weather when it is hard to see.

The people who look after the lighthouse are called lighthouse keepers. It's their job to make sure the light is working and to point it in the right direction when a ship needs help to see how to make it to shore.

How Does A Lighthouse Work?

Lighthouses were the first tool used to show ships where dangerous rocks or shallow waters were. It was an important job; without the help of lighthouses, it may have been much harder for ships to see where to arrive safely at night. Nowadays, GPS navigation technology has allowed ships to rely less on lighthouses, but many still stand in coastal areas as a reminder of their maritime past.

Red and white striped lighthouse on cliff, with bright blue sea to the left. It's a clear, sunny day and the sky is bright blue.
Image © Unsplash

17 Fun Facts About Lighthouses

1) The first lighthouse was the Pharos of Alexandria in ancient Egypt. This tower was built in the 3rd century BC and was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. For a long time, it was one of the tallest man-made structures in the world. It was said to be over 100 metres tall, but it was destroyed by earthquakes during the Middle Ages.

2) The oldest lighthouse that is still in use today is the Tower of Hercules, which can be found in the city of La Coruña in Spain. It was first built by the Romans in the 2nd century AD and stands at 55 metres tall.

3) Before electricity was developed, the lights would have been lit with wood fires, gas or coal. Even before lighthouses, there were fire-lit beacons on coastal cliffs to warn ships about rocky areas.

4) During the Victorian era, these early methods were replaced with electric lamps, which you may still find in most lighthouses today. These lights were much more powerful and could be seen for many miles.

5) The tallest lighthouse in the world is the Jeddah Light, which can be found in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It stands at 133 metres tall.

6) The country with the largest number of lighthouses is the United States of America, which boasts over 700  lighthouses.

7) Interestingly, the US state with the most lighthouses is not on America's oceanic coasts but is the mid-western state of Michigan. This is because Michigan is surrounded by four of the five 'Great Lakes' of North America.

8) There are over 60 lighthouses in Britain, although not many of these are still in use today. Because Britain is an island, sea trade has been a really important part of British life, and lighthouses used to be needed to keep sailors safe.

Red lighthouse against a slightly cloudy sky, with a white stripe. There are three houses in the background and a rocky shoreline in the foreground.
Image © Unsplash

9) One of these is the southernmost lighthouse in the mainland UK, which is called Lizard Lighthouse. It is located near Lizard Point, Cornwall. For a long time, it was an important navigation point for sailors coming to Britain.

10) Another one is the northernmost lighthouse in the UK, Muckle Flugga Lighthouse in the Shetland Islands, north of Scotland. The lighthouse was built in 1854 by the father and uncle of the famous writer Robert Louis Stevenson. He visited the lighthouse as a young man; the island of Unst, where the lighthouse is built, inspired him when he made the map in his novel Treasure Island.

11) The oldest complete lighthouse in Britain that is still standing today is Flamborough Head, which can be found in East Yorkshire. It was built in 1669 and is made of chalk.

12) While Flamborough Head may be the oldest lighthouse still standing, lighthouses have been used in Britain for thousands of years. The remains of the first lighthouse in Britain may be found near Dover Castle, Kent. It is believed to have been built around 2000 years ago by the Romans shortly after they invaded Britain.

13) There are an estimated 18,600 lighthouses in the whole world. Many of these do not need a lighthouse keeper to take care of them any longer. Instead, they run on an automatic schedule or have clever technology that can figure out when the light needs to be turned on.

14) Lighthouses were painted with different colours depending on their location. The colour was often chosen to stand out against the background if the lighthouse was located in a dark area or against bright white cliffs.

15) Different patterns were also chosen so sailors could tell lighthouses apart from each other, which would help them figure out where they were. The most common ones included red and white stripes or hoops.

16) Bishop Rock Lighthouse is on the tiny island of Bishop Rock, in the Isles of Scilly off the coast of Cornwall. The island can be found in the Guinness Book of World Records as it is the smallest island in the world with a building on it!

The Statue of Liberty in New York, USA, viewed from the front across the water. There is a blue sky with a few clouds in the background.
Image © Unsplash

17) The Statue of Liberty near New York City was originally a lighthouse. Between 1886 and 1902 the primary purpose of the statue was to be a guide for ships arriving in the busy New York Harbour. However, it was not very useful and eventually stopped being used as a lighthouse. Instead, it became a landmark that continues to attract millions of visitors every year.

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